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The PMP Passing Score: How to Reach Above Target Scores

The Project Management Professional (PMP®) passing score is a topic that gets discussed often by students. Everyone wants to know the magic number for passing, because of the expectation that knowing the pass mark will help you prepare for the test. After all, if you know what target to shoot for, you can use the PMP exam simulator to test yourself and compare your score on practice exams against the passing rate.

The other reason why students probably talk about the passing score for PMP is that it’s hard to get that information. It’s difficult to find the answer, so students ask each other (and us) often.

In fact, it’s not hard. It’s impossible.

The PMP Test Passing Score Is…

There is no published pass mark for the PMP exam.

That’s the truth. The Project Management Institute does not disclose that information.

The PMP exam passing score for PMI tests is kept private. In the PMP certification handbook, PMI states that the number of questions you have to get right is determined by psychometric analysis and has been created with input from project management experts from around the world. In other words, you won’t know what your passing score is, and it might differ from time to time.

What is clear is that you score one point for every question that you get right. The scores are added up, and your total amount of points is used to establish whether or not you have passed the exam. It also determines which performance rating you achieve for the domains of project management tested.

The History of the PMP Passing Score

If you thought you had seen a pass mark in the past, you would be right. PMI has not always kept the scores confidential.

Before 2005, the pass mark was 61%. Then, during 2005, the score you needed to pass was increased to a massive 81%. As you can imagine, many people were unable to pass the test at that rate. No doubt that helped maintain the perception that the PMP exam was a robust and valuable test of how well someone could operate as a project manager.

In 2007, PMI introduced the report card format, so the percentage target was dropped. Instead, students received a result that reflected their proficiency in different project management domains.

Ten years later, the exam scoring all changed again. PMI introduced the Above Target, Target, Below Target and Needs Improvement ratings which are still in use on examination reports today. You might hear people refer to these as AT, T, BT, and NI.

These categories did not change during the PMP exam update that took effect in 2021, so if you are working towards the exam at the moment, you should expect to see those categories as part of the feedback on your exam report as your test concludes.

How Much Weight Does Each Domain Have on the Grading?

The PMP exam covers three domains:

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Business environment.

The People domain represents 42% of the test. In other words, 42% of the questions you see will reflect content in the People domain. This domain covers the knowledge areas that relate to interpersonal skills and working with others.

Half of the questions on your exam will reflect the Process domain. This section reflects the technical expertise required to plan, manage, monitor and control a project. For example, it covers project risk management, scheduling and procurement.

The remaining 8% of questions will be drawn from the Business Environment domain. Questions in this domain reflect the organizational context for the project, for example the governance structures at company level, the link to benefits and value, and the wider commercial environment that you need to work in.

That should give you an idea of how best to split your study time. If you are struggling with the concepts of the business environment, then it may be better to invest in that area in your PMP study plan knowing that you are going to see fewer questions on that theme.

In addition to the above split of questions between the domains, you should expect half your questions to be framed from an agile, hybrid project management and iterative perspective, and the other half to be framed from a waterfall or predictive approach.

That’s quite a lot to consider as you prepare for your exam!

5 Study Best Practices to Achieve An Above Target PMP Exam Passing Score

Given that the passing score for PMP is not published, you might be wondering how to ensure you do get enough marks to pass the test.

Here are our top 5 study best practices, drawn from many years of experience and PMP lessons learned in helping students succeed in their examinations:

  1. Make sure all your study resources are updated
  2. Measure and assess yourself against the exam domains
  3. Take as many practice exams as you can
  4. Get direct feedback from experts or mentors
  5. Learn at your most productive time

Let’s review each of those in more detail so you can be as prepared as possible for your exam day.

1. Make sure all your study resources are updated

First, it’s important to ensure that your PMP study materials are updated to reflect the latest changes to the PMP exam.

The PM Exam Simulator is constantly updated and revised so the questions and explanations are in line with what you should expect to see on the test. Of course, the simulator does not include the actual exam questions you will face on your testing day. Instead, the questions are similar in difficulty and nature. They are also split across every PMP practice exam in the same proportions as you will receive in the real exam.

As stated in the history of PMP development, the certification exam has been around for many years, there are many old learning resources out there. Make sure you invest in materials that will help you achieve the best possible result.

2. Measure and assess yourself against the exam domains

We recommend measuring your progress with mock exams, using a software tool to mimic the digital environment you will see on your test day. Why use a PMP simulator? Because the exam is interactive. You will be expected to navigate through the questions online, use the online timer and calculator and features like ‘mark for review’. You can’t feel comfortable with those if you are using a book to study from as books simply can’t replicate the online experience.

If you aren’t sure what the ‘mark for review’ feature is, don’t worry. It’s a helpful option in the exam that lets you flag questions and come back to them later. If you aren’t sure of an answer, or you feel like answering would take too much time, you can mark the question for review.

Then, towards the end of your exam, you can spend any extra time you have left going through those flagged questions. Check your responses, or fill in the blanks. It’s a good way of skipping questions so you don’t get stuck, and then easily being able to find the questions you need to revisit before your time is up.

There are many good reasons to use PMP books but getting comfortable with the digital interface is not one of them!

3. Take as many PMP practice exams as you can

Practice exams give you experience of answering the many different types of PMP questions from drag-and-drop to interpreting charts, multiple select and the classic multiple choice, and more.

Sitting down at your computer to answer questions for the full exam time is also worth doing. These days, we don’t often have a reason to be at our computers for hours at a time, focused on one specific task. A practice examination will help you get used to the feeling of being at your desk for that long and the pace required to get through all the questions in the allotted time.

Practice exams will also get you familiar with the language, style, structure and format of the questions. There can be quite a lot of words to read on the screen, and often we receive feedback from students after their PMP exam saying that their test questions were vague and tricky! That’s why the PM Exam Simulator questions are also vague and tricky at times, as they help prepare you for the real thing.

4. Get direct feedback from experts or mentors

The best study tools don’t simply report that your answer was wrong. They also explain why. That depth of explanation sets some tools apart from others. Detailed explanations help students learn why an answer was correct, why a different answer was correct but not appropriate in this situation, or why a course of action would not have been the right thing to do at that time. These are nuances that mentors share with their mentees – and that you can’t get from the appendix of a book that only lists the correct ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’ response.

Another feature that sets the PM Exam Simulator apart as a PMP prep tool is Live Feedback™.

The Live Feedback feature is designed to address the correctness of the answer, explanation, or reference. It allows students to provide their feedback and input relating to any question in the simulator if:

  • they disagree with the correct answer;
  • they think the explanation is insufficient, or;
  • they think the reference is wrong.

All you have to do is click the feedback button from inside the simulator and it sends a message directly to the expert team. We have had great feedback about this feature from students. As Paul Saylor, PMP, says: “This feature allowed me to communicate with a certified professional who would review my questions and respond in a manner that would either cause the light bulb to go off in my head or he/she would agree that the manner in which the question was phrased needed modification.”

5. Learn at your most productive time

When you put together your PMP study plan, take into account when you prefer to work. Consider your ‘high energy’ times. Are you more motivated in the morning? Or are you someone who does their best work late into the night? There is no right or wrong answer to this – it’s simply a personal preference.

Once you understand and acknowledge your personal preference, you can build your study plan around those so you maximize your effectiveness by studying at the right times.

The good thing about online resources like an exam simulator is that it is available 24/7 and across multiple devices. You can log in from your phone in the morning during your commute, and then pick up where you left off from your laptop on the kitchen table later in the evening after work.

The Best Tool to Help Reach The PMP Exam Passing Score

The passing score for PMP might be a mystery, but how to get an Above Target result on all domains is not! However, you will have to put the work in. You can maximize your chances of passing the exam by properly preparing for your test day.

You can reach the PMP passing score by using the right study materials, answering lots of practice questions, reviewing your responses and planning out your studies are crucial for feeling confident and prepared.

Make the PM Exam Simulator part of your exam prep, and be like thousands of other students who have aced the test with thorough practice and preparation.

Training for Project Management Professional (PMP)®, PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®, and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®

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